A woman invented the first dishwasher

Dishwasher story

The dishwasher is an equipment that is present in all homes to facilitate the daily life of many families. Dishwashers have also become indispensable tools for people working in the HoReCa industry and need to wash big volumes of dishes that is unthinkable to wash by hand. A commercial dishwasher is the answer, because it is able to wash automatically optimizing time and costs. A commercial dishwasher is useful not only in the Horeca sector (hotels, restaurants and catering), but also in all contexts where you have to deal with any dishes or objects to be washed.

Josephine Cochran, a woman, invented the first dishwasher. But what is the story of this indispensable equipment? What evolution has it undergone over time? Let’s find out it in this white paper.

The ancestors of the dishwasher

The invention of the dishwasher as an automatic dishwashing machine dates back to the mid-19th century. In 1850, Joel Houghton patented for the first time a wooden device, operated by a crank, that sprayed water on the dishes. In this way the first concept of semi-automatic dishwasher was born, a device that was however impractical.

Some years later, in 1865, Levi A. Alexander patented [1] an updated machine with some improvements. As per the image below, the device was circular in shape and was also operated by a crank. In the middle part the dishes were placed in a wooden basket. The system was hermetic to prevent water splashes.

Figure 1: Principle diagram of the Levi Alexander patent [1]

The invention of Josephine Cochran

Some years later the concept of dishwasher takes a big step forward, thanks to Josephine Garis Cochran. Mrs. Cochran was a wealthy American woman, her grandfather was the inventor of the steamboat, while her father was a civil engineer. Josephine, concerned about her precious ‘600 Chinese porcelain chipped by her servants, decided to find a better alternative to manual washing and invented in 1886 a fully automatic dishwasher. Her phrase “if no one else is going to invent a dishwasher, I’ll do it myself” has become very famous. Well, she did it for real and in style.

Fig. 1 Josephine Garis Cochran

Mrs. Cochran was a very emancipated woman, strong and confident, although many men had tried to make her desist from the development of her invention, because of the culture strongly masculinist in vogue. Thanks also to Cochran, today, almost 150 years after her invention, we continue to exploit the result of her feminine intuition.
Her invention consisted of a device driven by an electric motor in which soapy water was sprayed from above on the dishes that were placed in the different compartments of the basket. The device was patented in 1886 [2].  This invention caused a sensation, and was exhibited at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, an event that further enhanced its fame [3], [4]. Mrs. Cochran, throught this invention, founded the Josephine Cochran’s Crescent Washing Machine Company.

In 1917 the first prototype of 1886 was significantly improved with a new patent [5]. In this new version we can find many elements in common with modern dishwashers. The electric motor (10) that, by means of a belt (8), moves the pump (5) that pushes the water through the washing column (11) and then into the upper rotating washing arm (15). At the bottom, the tank (2) is filled with water and overflows excess water through the overflow plug to the drain pipe (3). Dishes (17) are placed in the baskets (18).

Figure 2: Second patent of Josephine Cochran [5] from 1917

Josephine Cochran was inducted into the “National Inventors Hall of Fame” in 2006 because of her great contribution to American technological development [6]. As evidence of the far-reaching impact of its invention, the government of Romania – a country which Cochran in reality had no connection with – in 2013 issued a stamp with her face for the World Intellectual Property Day [7].

The modern dishwashing machines

The modern features of the dishwasher had been incorporated by the British engineer and soldier William Howard Livens, thanks to a patent dated 1924 [8].  Livens, like Josephine Cochran, also aimed to improve working conditions at home and, at least initially, had no intention of exploiting the invention economically. The improvements compared to previous models were the use of rotating arms to spray hot water and the final drying. After some modifications, the connection to the pipes for domestic water and electricity was introduced in 1940. Despite significant progress, this was not a commercial success. Only in 1950s the appliances had become smaller, cheaper and therefore cheaper. Large-scale diffusion was facilitated by the introduction of mass production: the use of these machines spread within the middle class. In Italy, the proliferation of supply and demand began with the “economic boom” of the 1960s. In this period had been founded many companies manufacturing dishwashing machines, like Elframo, founded in the middle of the Economic Boom, in the mid-60s.

Figure 5: Elframo plant in 1968

The current scenario and the spread of dishwashers

Today, household dishwashers are an appliance that is not fully accepted by the population. Germany and Sweden are among the countries with the highest rate of adoption of glasswashers (about 72%). Portugal, France, Italy and Greece are at slightly lower levels (use 55% – 65%). On the contrary, in the UK, hand washing of dishes is much more common and only 46% of people have a dishwasher at home [9]. As a result, the potential market is not yet fully saturated and there are some opportunities for further developments.
In the commercial field, according to a survey held in Italy, source [10] of 2019, the most common dishwashing machines are cupwashers/glasswasher for bar (almost 80% of bars have one model, only 50% of restaurants and hotels have one dishwasher). Restaurants and hotels from 2008 to 2019 have preferred the purchase of a front-loading dishwasher, also thanks to the fact that they have a small footprint and ensure good productivity: 43% of the commercial activities in the Italian HoReCa market has a dishwasher (in 2008 only 23% owned a dishwashing machine). Larger machines such as hood-type dishwashers, rack conveyor dishwashers and utensil washers are less common, with a market penetration of 27%, 13% and 12% respectively.

Elframo dishwashers

Elframo has been founded by Mr. Angelo Mora in the Sixties with the aim of providing durable and reliable commercial dishwashing solutions. Since then, the company has continued to grow and design new solutions to support the customers in the daily business and to get the best washing performance, with a high attention to consumption and energy efficiency. The most important principle of providing the highest quality, in every small detail, has been unchanged for over 50 years.
If you are interested in our products, please contact us, we will listen to your needs and develop a custom-made solution.


[1]  Alexander, Levi A., “Machine for washing dishes”. 21/11/1865, patent US 51000.

[2] Josephine Cochran, “Dish washing machine”, 28/12/1886, patent US 355,139

[3] Website ThoughtCo.com, “Josephine Cochran and the Invention of the Dishwasher”, Mary Bellis, 2019, consulted on 28/03/2021

[4]  D’Ambrosio, B., “From Football to Fig Newtons: 76 American Inventors and The Inventions You Know by Heart”, ISBN: 9781476201047, 2012.

[5]  Josephine Cochran, Annie Colt, “Dish-washing machine”, 24/04/1917, patent US 1,223,380

[6] Website National Inventors Hall of Fame, “Josephine Garis Cochran”, link, consulted on 28/03/2021

[7] United States Patent and Trademark Office, “I’ll do it myself”, link, consulted on 28/03/2021

[8] Livens W. Howard, “Improvements in apparatus for washing household crockery and the like”, patent GB219103A

[9] Statista, “Household ownership rate of dishwashing machines in most populous countries in Europe in 2020”, link, consulted on 23/03/2021

[10] EFCEM Italia, “Dimensione e dinamicità del mercato degli apparecchi professionali nel comparto della ristorazione commerciale”, 07/2019